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22-year-old Ukiah woman whose death was ruled ‘suspicious,’ remembered as ‘strong-willed’

Alyssa Mae Sawdey was a strong-willed young woman who didn’t know her self-worth, friends and family members said.

The 22-year-old’s body was found Jan. 11, near Highway 101 north of Ukiah, according to the Mendocino County Sheriff’s Office.

She was identified last Friday. Her autopsy results were pending as of Wednesday.

Authorities say Sawdey’s death is “suspicious in nature” and the cause is under investigation.

Sawdey graduated from Ukiah High School in 2018 and had been providing in-home care to the elderly, according to Sabrina Porter.

Alyssa Mae Sawdey would just “giggle and giggle,” said Melissa Nelson, a close family friend. And she gave “the warmest hugs. (Sabrina Porter via Facebook)
Alyssa Mae Sawdey would just “giggle and giggle,” said Melissa Nelson, a close family friend. And she gave “the warmest hugs. (Sabrina Porter via Facebook)

She dreamed of getting her nursing degree one day and loved to take care of people, but sometimes that love for others did not extend to herself, Porter said.

Porter would know. As Alyssa’s mother, she watched her daughter battle with that self-doubt.

“She struggled very hard, and she always felt like she wasn’t good enough,” Porter said. “She always wanted to help everyone else, but she was always very hard on herself.”

She became friends with the wrong people, who hurt and abused her, her mother said. She eventually fell into a dark place which she desperately wanted to get out of, said Porter.

Sawdey wanted to get cleaned up and get off drugs permanently, Porter said. “But we live here in California where it’s so hard to get help.”

Porter didn’t receive a call back from the rehab clinic until last week, when it was too late.

“I said ‘No. She’s not okay. She’s dead,’” Porter said.

“Ever since she was a little kid, she loved people. She would talk to everyone in the room and she was very trusting of others,” Porter said.

She was a cheerleader, a basketball player and a natural-born artist.

Alyssa Mae Sawdey was super extroverted and loved cheerleading as a kid, according to her mother. (Sabrina Porter)
Alyssa Mae Sawdey was super extroverted and loved cheerleading as a kid, according to her mother. (Sabrina Porter)

“But Alyssa put her trust in the wrong hands,” Porter said. “And people take advantage of that.”

“It’s hard as a mom, very hard,” Porter said. “And you always hope that maybe it’s just a phase and she’ll grow out of that.”

“We were trying,” Porter said. “But it’s an every day battle.”

Jannea Thomsen, 32, of Lakeport, a close family friend said Sawdey loved cheeseburgers and peanut M&M’S , but more than anything, she loved her 14-year-old sister, Brook.

Porter said Sawdey would come to the house all the time, just to cuddle and hangout with her little sister. They would talk on the phone constantly, and Sawdey took Brook to school just a few days before she died.

Jamarr Porter, her stepfather from birth said Sawdey was incredibly artistic. He remembered one day when she was little and she wrote a song and sang it to him behind the house.

Alyssa Mae Sawdey was genuine and loved to help others, according to a close family friend. (Sabrina Porter)
Alyssa Mae Sawdey was genuine and loved to help others, according to a close family friend. (Sabrina Porter)

She was lovely, genuine, and “a bit extra sometimes,” he said.

“My daughter was great,” he said. “She knew people in my family I hadn’t even met.”

“Naturally, she will always, always be missed,” he added, tearing up.

Melissa Nelson is a close family friend. She said Sawdey had a smile that could light up a room.

She would just giggle and giggle, Nelson said. And she gave “the warmest hugs.

“She was “a bright light,” Nelson said.

“The world can extinguish bright lights, and that’s what it did.”

A memorial service will be held on Jan. 29 in Clearlake. Sawdey’s family has set up a GoFundMe page to help cover costs and related expenses.

The Sheriff’s Office urged anyone with information to call detectives at 707-234-2100.

You can reach Staff Writer Alana Minkler at 707-526-8511 or alana.minkler@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @alana_minkler.

Alana Minkler

Breaking news & general assignment reporter, The Press Democrat

The world is filled with stories that inspire compassion, wonder, laughs and even tears. As a Press Democrat reporter covering breaking news, tribes and youth, it’s my goal to give others a voice to share these stories.

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